Q: My ex's husband just reached out to invite me to join them for Thanksgiving dinner. We have been divorced for six years and have had our ups and downs. It's mostly up now. They have been married for three and a half years and have recently added a baby. The kids are with them this year, they know I am alone, and I think it's their way of extending an olive branch. Should I go? What's good ex-etiquette?
A: Key word? Should. Should is used to "indicate obligation, duty, or correctness." Based on that, it is neither your obligation nor duty to attend Thanksgiving dinner at your ex's home. Correctness, on the other hand, is subjective. Many would think it's ridiculous to even consider sitting at the Thanksgiving table with an ex. But, these are different times and successful co-parenting in 2020 takes some think-out-of-the-box thinking. It's interesting that your ex's husband was the one to invite you.
Truth be told, it's not that out of the ordinary to spend Thanksgiving with an ex. I did it for years — at the beckoning of my children, my bonus daughter, to be exact, who said, "Can't we just try it this once?" because she and her brother simply hated going back and forth every year. One year the turkey wasn't done in time and they had to get up in the middle of dinner to go to the other home. That just added more stress to a very stressful situation. But, more importantly, they missed their mom when they were with their dad and me, and they missed us and their siblings at our house when they were with their mom.
Truth? I was a little uncomfortable at first, but when I saw how ecstatic the kids were to have everyone they cared about in the same room, at the same table, that was something to be truly thankful for — and that was the first glimmer of seeing Sharyl not as my husband's ex, but as the kids' mother — and that mental shift made all the difference in the world.
We have celebrated a yours, mine and ours Thanksgiving ever since. As a matter of fact, this will be only the second year we have not celebrated together in over 20 years. Kids and now grandparents move as the kids get older and the family is spreading out, but by putting the kids first (good ex-etiquette for parents rule No. 1) we started a bonus family tradition, truthfully, without even knowing it.
So here's the practical answer to your question: If you know in your heart that you will not be able to remain civil or will be obviously uncomfortable in front of your kids, don't even consider it. Or, if you appear too friendly, that will also confuse the kids and probably anger your ex's husband. In other words, only you know your motives and if you can pull it off successfully. If there is a question, better to spend the next year laying the proper groundwork and then go forward if that is your mutual goal. The good news is you got the invitation — and that's good ex-etiquette.
Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, bonusfamilies.com. ©2020 Jann Blackstone Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.